Nov 29 2010
One of the really amazing features of a PDF form is that you can make the fields fillable by the user and then e-mail the form results. This could greatly decrease the use of paper and NCR forms if it was widely used.
Trying to Find a Solution
When I first tried to create a fillable PDF form, I looked at Adobe’s tools. I thought that InDesign would be an ideal application for creating these PDF’s. It made sense that it would create fillable PDF’s because it could print directly to the Acrobat format and you should be able to name and define the PDF files in it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You can create the form contents in InDesign, but the fillable PDF attributes need to be created in Acrobat Professional. The steps are: create the form in InDesign, export to PDF, open in Acrobat where you name the fields, and then define what type of field it is along with any other parameters or custom programming that it requires. This is too many steps for creating a fillable form so I looked elsewhere.
Adobe also has LiveCycle Designer for creating fillable PDF forms, but you still need to create the form outside of it. It only creates the PDF fields.
I remembered that CorelDraw could create web sites with fillable forms, so perhaps it could also create a fillable PDF since it can also export directly to PDF. Again, like InDesign, it could not write PDF fields when it exported to the Acrobat format.
For a while, it seemed like the only way that I could make a fillable PDF was to use two separate applications.
Enter Scribus: the Open Source Desktop Publisher
Search engines should be used more often. I found an open source application called Scribus which can write PDF’s with fillable fields. This is precisely the application that I required. With Scribus, you design the form, add the PDF fields, and set their attributes. Then export the PDF and you have a fillable PDF form, all within one application (see below for example).
I recommend using 3 layers when creating a form. One layer is the background image of the form, which is the header and footer and other graphics that don’t change. The other layer would be the form layout, and finally the last layer are the PDF fields used by the form.
Scribus works very well in creating fillable PDF’s, except that if you have PDF fields that you want to duplicated on a form, such as a form where the top half is for you and the bottom half is for the client. This form would have duplicate fields in both sections. The problem with Scribus is that you can’t enter duplicate PDF field names on the same form. You will need to export it with the default names it uses and then change the field names in Acrobat Professional. Its not a very pleasant task to do, but even with this, you do save time over using two applications to create this type of PDF.
Apart from this bug, Scribus is a useful application and will save you time in creating fillable PDF forms.